On March 19, 2021, police in Turkey’s Istanbul Airport barred French freelance journalist Sylvain Mercadier from entering the country, detained him overnight, and deported him back to France, according to news reports, tweets by the journalist, and Mercadier, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Officers took Mercadier into custody soon after his flight landed from France, and interrogated him about his work for two hours, asking what kind of subjects he covered, which outlets he writes for, and whether he writes about the “Kurdish issue,” the journalist told CPJ.
After the interrogation, officers confiscated Mercadier’s phone and locked him overnight in a “guest house” run by the airport’s immigration department, he told CPJ, saying that officers returned his phone the next morning and deported him to France.
Mercadier said the officers were kind to him, and he was not mistreated in detention.
The journalist was traveling from France to Turkey to cover the Newroz spring celebrations in the eastern province of Diyarbakır, he told CPJ, saying that he regularly reports on politics, culture, environmental issues, and other topics in the Middle East for outlets including The Guardian, Middle East Eye, and Orient XXI.
On Mercadier’s “Inadmissible Passenger Information Form,” an official immigration document which CPJ reviewed, authorities ticked a box stating that he was not allowed into Turkey “due to public security.”
On the journalist’s “Potentially Disruptive Passenger Information Form,” which was filed for his return flight to Paris, authorities ticked a box stating that Mercadier was not permitted in Turkey because of “other reasons” and did not provide any explanation. The other options on that form include reasons for authorities to deny a passenger entry, such as possessing fake or altered documents or being subject to a formal entry ban.
Before he was deported, police told the journalist to apply for a visa at the Turkish embassy in France if he wanted to visit the country in the future. Normally, French citizens are “exempted from visa for their travels up to 90 days” according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s website.
The journalist said all his documentation was valid, and he had visited Turkey several times in the past decade, and had also transited through the country many times while traveling to other countries.
Previously, on March 7, Mercadier told CPJ that he was traveling through Turkey en route to northern Iraq, to cover the pope’s visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, when he was barred from boarding his connecting flight. He said that an airline representative told him that the Kurdistan Regional Government had blocked his entry to the region, and he was not told why.
Mercadier said he believed he could enter Turkey if he chose to at that time, but instead returned to France.
CPJ emailed the Istanbul Police Directorate and the Kurdistan Regional Government Interior Ministry for comment, but did not receive any replies.